By Emmanuel Aziken, political Editor
It was a sort of triumphal entry into Ibadan for the man from the East.Senator Ike Ekweremadu, touted as the champion of two presently disadvantaged entities in his position as the highest elected political officer of the major opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and also as the highest political office holder from the Southeast geopolitical zone, a region of the country that has continued to lament its exclusion from the mainstream of the federal administration.
However, Ekweremadu’s visit to Ibadan on March 3, 2017, did not portray him in that light. The Deputy President of the Senate was in Ibadan at the behest of the Alumni of the University of Ibadan as its guest lecturer at its 4th National Public Service Lecture. The theme of the lecture was “Federalism and The Legal Framework for Combating Corruption in Nigeria.”
His two garbs as PDP and Southeast leader nonetheless, his outing in Ibadan showed the extent to which Ekweremadu had gone in building bridges across the country and across religions.
On hand to receive him at the Ibadan Airport at about 2.30 p.m. were political leaders across political parties. His bosom friend, Senator Teslim Folarin Senate Leader in the 2007 to 2011 Senate was there. Folarin and Ekweremadu had formed a bond when they arrived the Senate in 2003. Folarin was Ekweremadu’s campaign manager in his abortive shot at the Senate Presidency in 2005.
Also on hand was Senator Soji Akanbi, APC, Oyo South. The presence of Senator Akanbi and his entourage decked in APC colours seemed to betray Ekweremadu’s arrival as a non-partisan affair. The extent of the DSP’s political reach was further demonstrated as the entourage proceeded to the Government House where Governor Abiola Ajimobi literally threw his arms around Ekweremadu, his former colleague in the Senate.
Governor Ajimobi while welcoming his guest and his entourage disclosed that he continues to maintain a cordial relationship with Ekweremadu saying that as much as possible he almost always seeks him out anytime he is in Abuja.
With the formalities of arrival dispensed with, Ekweremadu proceeded to the university campus where the Igbo Community rolled out the drums to welcome their leader. They sang, they danced and drew attention to themselves in the forecourt of Trenchard Hall, which was to serve as the venue of the lecture.
The lecture as expected was graced by the cream of the academia led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academics, Professor Ambrose Aiyelari. Also mentioned and recognised among the seated were the former vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Prof. Bisi Balogun and the doyen of physiotherapy in Nigeria, Dr. Abayomi Oshi.
Before the lecture commenced, the national president of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association, Dr. Kemi Emina justified the choice of Ekweremadu as guest lecturer. He particularly cited what he commended as the DSP’s effort in transforming his senatorial district. Noting the makeover of the senator’s hometown, Mpu, he said:
“Many years ago when I got there it was like the end of the world,” noting the total lack of basic infrastructure. Noting the makeover he added “when I got there again recently it was as if it was the gate to heaven,” the Alumni president said with a tinge of hyperbole.
Gone with the ceremonies, Ekweremadu was called upon to ventilate on the topic.
Ekweremadu commenced by noting that corruption in Nigeria is as old as the country’s history.
Quoting from the work of the late Professor Stephen Ellis in his work, This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime he said Awolowo “in 1947 decried corruption as the greatest deficit of the Native Court System. Awolowo complained that not only did the judges take bribes; people used their connection to the judges to enrich themselves and avoid punishment for their crime.”
Reference was also made to how Sir Abubakar Balewa in 1950 bemoaned “the twin curses of bribery and corruption pervade every rank and department of government.”
Noting that the scourge did not go away at independence, Ekweremadu quoted Nzeogwu’s 1966 coup speech as evidence of the rot of corruption in the First Republic.
“Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs,” Ekweremadu quoted Nzeogwu as saying.
He, however, refused to agree that corruption was inherent in Nigerians saying that many Nigerian cultures frowned at corruption.
Citing his Igbo culture, he said:
“In Igbo land, for instance, thieves were stripped naked, disgraced, and paraded around the community along with the items they stole. In some instances, such persons were banished or sold into slavery as never-do-wells to ensure they did not procreate their type.
“In fact, people whose ways were deemed not to be ‘straight’ were usually put through oaths or even submit themselves to oaths before the deities to affirm their innocence and clear their names. Otherwise, they would find it difficult to take wives or get husbands from within the town or neighbouring communities because people’s backgrounds, especially the integrity of their linage counted so much in the choice of a husband or wife.”
So, how did Nigeria come to be regarded as a fortress for the corrupt? Ekweremadu proffered seven factors which he cited as Loss of values, the culture of kickback, weak Legal System and Social safety net built around the extended family system. He also cited lack of social safety net for the aged, absence of Fiscal federalism and over-centralisation of the anti-corruption efforts.
He noted, for instance, that the ICPC had just six zonal offices and nine state offices, in addition to its headquarters in Abuja, while the EFCC had offices in only eight states, apart from its headquarters in Abuja. He thus recommended the establishment of independent anti-graft agencies by all levels of government and in all the local government areas of the country as a way of decentralising the anti-graft war.
He said: “Sadly, only Kano state currently has a state agency to fight corruption- the Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Commission. This should be emulated, and urgently too if we must make a headway in the war against graft.
Ekweremadu again reiterated his long call for fiscal federalism as another panacea.
“Entrenching fiscal federalism will replace the current ‘feeding bottle’ arrangement where the centre holds tightly to the purse string and feeds the components, with a better arrangement that is predicated on self-reliance, hard work, enterprise,
resourcefulness, ingenuity, taxation, transparency, and accountability.
“In the various kindred/family meetings, the illiterate farmer or palm wine tapper becomes literate when it comes to how the fines and levies he contributed were spent because it is the product of his sweat, not a windfall from anywhere”.
Listing the various mineral resources in the 36 States of the country, Ekweremadu noted that “The good thing is that every State of the federation is sufficiently endowed to survive from its own resources and sweat”.
He also decried a situation where the minimum wage was pegged at N18,000, while some State governors and executives could pocket as much as N2 billion under the cover of Security Vote. He thus suggested that a national minimum wage of N50,000 should be fixed.
“When a man who earns N18,000, cannot buy a bag of rice, how then can such a person take care of his family? Does it make sense to him if you tell him not to find alternative means of catering to the needs of his family?
“Is it not also possible to abolish the Security Vote and replace it with Contingency Vote so it can be appropriated and accounted for”, he queried.
As he finished his lecture he received a resounding applause from the dons, students, and guests seated at the Trenchard Hall.
As he ended, Ekweremadu was enrobed as an honourary member of the University of Ibadan Alumni, the greatest alumni association in the eyes of former UI students. As the president of the alumni said that day, “we will make him an honourary alumnus so that he will be truly accomplished because even if you went to Cambridge you are not really accomplished if you didn’t pass through UI.”
For Ekweremadu, with a Ph.D. in law and a former lecturer in constitutional law before his foray into politics, he may in the perspective of UI graduates now be truly accomplished.